Cruising Country

This event is being organised in part by one of the members of the panel I organised for the CSAA conference, Ursula Frederick. I certainly want to go, but I think I will have to negotiate it with my supervisors. The paper I want to give will be part of my introductory chapter that introduces Australian modified-car culture. What I won’t be talking about is the second shift that has occurred because of the rise in popularity of the ‘import’ and the IT industry boom/bubble/bust and the reconfigurations of masculinity, labour, class, etc that have resulted. I am not sure about the Australian identity stuff either, that is a bit out of my comfort zone. I am sooo open to ideas, so if anyone can think of any Australian studies or whatever readings, let me know.

Draft abstract:

From the Beach to the Burbs: Panel Vans, Street Machines and Australian Identity

The panel van is masculine icon of Australian culture. The first panel van, an EH Holden, was produced in 1953 for tradesmen as a utility vehicle, but in the 1970s the panel van became something else when customised by young men. To capitalise on the popularity of the panel van enthusiasm the ‘big three’ Detroit-based car manufacturers, Ford, Chrysler and GM Holden released the Sundowner, the Drifter and the Sandman respectively.

Over the last two decades there has been a shift in modified-car culture that mirrors a shift in Australian identity. Previously, the panel van has been described as an interstitial site between indoors and outdoors, youth and adult, and freedom and responsibility (Fiske 1983). At beaches and drive-ins where panel vans parked they became an event-space of sex and sociality. The back of a panel van folded domestic space into the space and freedoms of automobility. The event-space of modified-car enthusiasts has shifted from the back of a panel van to the streets of cruisers. The ritualised practice of cruising potentialises the automobilised space of the street and carpark so it becomes an event-space where the incorporeal event of ‘nothing’ happens (cf. Corrigan 1976).

The turning point can be located in the early 1980s. One of Australia’s most popular panel van enthusiast publications Australian Van Wheels became Street Machine & Van Wheels in 1981. In 1982, ‘Van Wheels’ was dropped from the title and the magazine became Street Machine. It shall be argued the rise in popularity of the street machine culture in the early 1980s signals a shift in Australian identity from the dominance of the nature/culture divide represented by the beach to the socially mobile/static divide represented by suburban streets.

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Below is the call for papers:

Cruising Country : A symposium and film event exploring the powers of
wheels, roads and screens in non-urban Australia

26-28 May 2005

Centre for Cross-Cultural Research, The Australian National University,

Since the early 20th century, motor vehicles of all descriptions have been
central characters in the settlement, governance and representation of non-urban
Australia. They are objects of desire and exchange, actors in subsistence,
ceremonial and market economies and sites of deep projective identification.
Represented in paintings, films, novels, music, ethnography, ceremony and other
cultural media, vehicles communicate closely with the aesthetic spirits of
modernity and its discontents. Vehicles add velocity to landscape’s powers,
compressing distance and reframing senses of place. Containing, carrying and
connecting people, knowledge, visions and voices, motor cars are deeply
phenomenological spaces.

Cruising Country invites speakers to explore these and other conjunctures
of Australian automobility, intercultural exchange, power and social
transformation through a series of presentations, panel discussions and film
screenings. We are inviting abstracts of no more than 300 words, outlining your
proposed topic, approach, and the forms/media in which you intend to present
your work.

Proposals for discussion panels are also welcome.

Deadline for abstracts: 1 February 2005Email your abstract to: and/or